Voter ID alternative gets informational hearing

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A plan to institute a photo ID requirement for voters remains controversial among lawmakers, but members of a House committee got their first glimpse at a possible bipartisan alternative.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie appeared before the House State Government Finance Committee to demonstrate the use of electronic poll books. The technology consists of laptop computers containing updated voter registration data and photos provided by Driver and Vehicle Services. Proponents say providing electronic poll books for polling places would allow for the verification of voters’ identities without subjecting them to a photo ID requirement.

“It allows us to accomplish the very important task of bringing visual verification of voters into the polling place,” Ritchie said. He added, “It’s something that can be done very easily and relatively quickly.”

Supporters say electronic poll books represent a less burdensome alternative to the photo ID law proposed by Republican lawmakers. Instead of requiring all voters to obtain a government-issued photo ID card with a current address on it, the electronic poll books would simply utilize the state’s current voter registration system, but with the added benefit of being able to identify voters visually.

Some doubt the value of such a system, however. Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina) asked what the point is of making photos available at the polling places if there’s no photo ID requirement for voters to comply with.

“Under the premise of a photo ID requirement, I think this makes great sense. Absent photo ID, I can’t imagine we’d be sticking people’s photos on poll books,” he said.

The committee took no action. There are currently no bills moving through the House that would implement electronic poll books. Rep. Mike Benson (R-Rochester) said there is “still a lot of work to be done” on how best to roll out such a system.